The Trampoline Effect

Redesigning Our Social Safety Nets

Gord Tulloch & Sarah Schulman

How do you reshape a giant ecosystem with ingrained approaches, habitual reactions, and vested interests?

The social sector is stuck. Human needs for connection, belonging, purpose, and agency are largely forgotten, or actively thwarted, which prevents people from living to their fullest potential. But how do you change it?

Instead of going big, Gord Tulloch and Sarah Schulman suggest going small. In The Trampoline Effect, they articulate a series of twelve strategies, or “stretches,” that will enable organizations to reach in new directions. Things like attending to beauty, purpose, and identity, and designing roles that activate community capacity and bridge people to it. The sum of these efforts, across time and contexts, can lead to a gradual repurposing of our social safety nets.

This book is for anyone who plays a role in the social service ecosystem,
whether you are a front-line worker, manager, or leader; researcher or policymaker; part of a vocational training or social worker program; a government funder, community foundation, or philanthropist; or a professional association. It’s also for social innovators and intrapreneurs trying to bring change to communities and organizations, and—most important—for those who want to see a change in the way we care.


The Trampoline Effect is a hugely personal book, deeply grounded in professional experience and pursuing the bold ambition of making social systems more human. It puts the reader into the lived experience of the people social services seek to help, and demonstrates convincingly why current theory and practice is failing. By suggesting twelve thought provoking ‘stretches,’ Gord Tulloch and Sarah Schulman invite us to embrace the tensions inherent in the system, rather than shy away from them. The result is a major contribution to social work and the emerging
field of social design.”

“This is a book for the strong of heart. Gord Tulloch and Sarah Schulman have offered a candid appraisal of the limitations of the service delivery system, and an instruction manual for reconciling that reality through a courageous commitment to justice, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. The Trampoline Effect is for policy makers, funders, anyone involved with the service delivery system, and those who understand that taking care of eachother is the essence of democracy. With humility, the authors show us that we can do better—we must do better.”

“In our well-meaning efforts to provide for people’s material needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing, we’ve inadvertently diminished their agency, control, and connectedness—the very things that make us human. In The Trampoline Effect, Gord Tulloch and Sarah Schulman provide a coherent and compelling alternative vision for our ‘human’ services, one still rooted in natural empathy but now focused on connecting people to their hopes, stories, capabilities, and relationships. They lay out an elegantly simple—albeit still difficult—grassroots way of getting there. If you want to contribute to the renewal of the social sector, you had better read this book.”

“Standing out from a sea of statistics in the social services, The Trampoline Effect tells a story that is both honest and hopeful. Part field guide and part reflection, it offers insight from the authors’ own innovation journey, illuminating not only the need for purpose and healing in those who experience social stigma, but also the same need in each of us. This book points to a new frontier of social services that is capable not only of keeping people safe, but also of feeding people’s souls. Along the way, it challenges the long established beliefs both in social services and in the field of innovation.”


“This groundbreaking book is for everyone working in social and public
interest services. The Trampoline Effect captures the essence of services
as caring for others, and bravely addresses critical service tensions
between the push for efficiency of systems and the need to recognize
people with affection and respect as full individuals. Sarah Schulman
and Gord Tulloch share the insider stories and deep engagements that
inform their invaluable insights on how systems need to change to
become more human. This is a book to be read, shared, and taught.”

The Trampoline Effect is a deeply authentic, contextualized, inspiring, and pragmatic guide to reorienting social systems toward human flourishing. In their ambitious collaboration to humanize Canada’s disability system, Gord Tulloch and Sarah Schulman do not offer silver-bullet solutions. They offer something better: possibilities.”


Gord Tulloch has worked in the developmental disability sector for almost thirty years. He has served in many roles, from front-line worker to senior leadership, and as an accreditation surveyor, independent consultant, and college/university instructor. For the past several years he has been the director of innovation at posAbilities; he is a social intrapreneur who is trying to change the social service system from within. Tulloch holds a BA (Hons.) in philosophy and a master of arts in liberal studies.

Dr. Sarah Schulman is a founding partner of InWithForward, an international social design organization whose teams have produced award-winning and scalable interventions. Schulman holds a BA (Hons.) in human biology, a master’s in education, and a DPhil in social policy from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

ISBN 978-1-7773148-0-4
$19.95 CAD $14.95 USD
Published October 27, 2020
6 × 9 202 Pages
Paperback, ebook